Panic disorder refers to sudden and repeated panic attacks—episodes of intense fear and discomfort that reach a peak within a few minutes—during which time the individual experiences physical symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, breathlessness, vertigo, or abdominal distress, sometimes accompanied by the fear of losing control or dying, according to the DSM-5. The symptoms may seem similar to those of a heart attack or other life-threatening medical conditions. Panic disorder is often diagnosed after medical tests or emergency room visits have ruled out other serious illnesses.
Panic disorder affects about 2 to 3 percent of American adolescents and adults, and occurs twice as often in women than men. Panic attacks often emerge in young adulthood, but not everyone who experiences a single panic attack goes on to develop the disorder.